Book recommendation: The Silence of the Sea by Vercors

This isn’t a review as such, because reviewing something that was written during the war by a member of the French Resistance is inappropriate. Imprinting your vision or opinion on something that was written by a witness is, in my view, utterly inappropriate.

The Silence of the Sea is exactly the story that would have been branded as inappropriate in our parts of the world. Some places in Eastern Europe are still obsessed by their vision of history, the glorified past washed to the shining bone… Germans were bad. The Soviets were victims. Sometimes the Soviets are branded as the only victims. A disdainful opinion “What do they, the Westerners, know of war?” is still heard all too often. Education is to blame, and not the lack thereof. The ones that are a decade older than myself have studied World War II in great many details during the history and literature classes. Instead of being taught reason – that war isn’t black and white, that the ones that are dragged into it aren’t always good or bad – many, many people from the former USSR were taught that the Germans were the big bad wolf. A short story about a good German is something too fantastical to be true for many conservative minds. This is what the Silence of the Sea is in fact.

It is a story about a girl and her elderly uncle, living in a small provincial town invaded by the Germans. Werner von Ebrennac is a German officer that they are forced to host in their own home. In an act of resistance, the French family treats the foreigner, the despicable Nazi with silence… Werner – the well-mannered, cultured and respectful officer does all the talking, and as his monologues unfold we learn that still and silent waters hold secrets…

I recommended this short story to a Ukrainian friend some years ago. When I saw her the next day, she said: “I hate you. I cried” 

Book recommendation: The Silence of the Sea by Vercors

Book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

9780008138301Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is a masterpiece of great beauty, a true literary tour-de-force that sweeps the reader away and doesn’t let go, and as you rush through the pages some of the most persistent thoughts in your head are – I do not want this to end. I’ve recommended All the Light We Cannot See to my mother, grandmother and to my boss well, to almost anyone whom I’ve met since I finished it and who has the slightest interest in the written word. Doerr’s book is a stupendous and enchanting masterpiece that pulls you right in.

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Book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Review: Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Letters from Skye is, truly, unputdownable, one of the rare novels that sweeps the reader away and does not let go. In 1912 Elspeth Dunn is a published poet, living as a recluse on the Scottish island of Skye. Skye is her world, Elspeth never traveled beyond, fearing to cross the waters separating the remote island from the British mainland territory. She is astonished to receive her very first fan letter from Chicago (of all places) college student David Graham.  Elspeth and David strike up a long-distance friendship, which, after years of correspondence, turns to love, even though the two never met in person and Elspeth is married. As the first World War rages in Europe and Elspeth’s husband Iain goes missing, David signs up as a volunteer ambulance driver to the French front.

In 1940, Elspeth is a secretive single mother, living in Edinburg with her daughter Margaret. As Elspeth and Margaret quarrel over the latter’s apparent feelings for a RAF pilot, Elspeth insists that nothing good may come of the search for love in war time. The second World War reopened Elspeth’s old wounds; Margaret starts to question what happened with her mother during the last global conflict, a bomb hits their street and Elspeth disappears, leaving behind a single mysterious letter from an American named Davey to a woman named Sue. Margaret begins the search for her mother and starts to unravel the secrets that shook Elspeth Dunn’s family during World War I.

Letters from Skye is a marvel-of-a-novel that has now conquered a very special place in my reader’s heart. It’s a historical novel, but also one of the most touching and poetic love stories a reader may get a chance to encounter. Elspeth and Davey are soulmates, divided by distance and consequence.  They haven’t met each other, but you are with them as they fall in love, and there’s a tremendous beauty in their story, they’re smart, funny and full of life. In short, they feel real. As the timeline skips back and forth between the 1910s and the 1940s, you understand that something dreadful happened during the first World War, but all of my guesses came short of what really took place.

Overall: 5*

Review: Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

Victory day in Chisinau

Each return to the Memorial in Chisinau is a a very emotional occasion. I still remember the solemn excitement of going there with my grandfather, I must have been about four or five. Victory Day, the 9th of May has always been special, this year – even more so. My great grandfather, as I discovered yesterday, may have been a prisoner of war. My other great grandfather survived Stalingrad and Koenigsberg…

Sadly, the numbers of the veterans are dwindling with each year…. Today, thousands honored their 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany in Chisinau.

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Victory day in Chisinau